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Fierce gunbattles taint Kashmir poll

Kashmir election
An elderly woman is pleased to reach the front of a long line at a polling station in the Kashmiri town of Qazigund

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Two fatal bombings in Kashmir in as many hours left at least six dead. Police suspect Muslim militants are behind both attacks
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SRINAGAR, Indian-Controlled Kashmir (CNN) -- Eight people have been killed in the latest gunbattle between Indian soldiers and Islamic militants, as violence casts a lengthy shadow over elections underway in the disputed territory.

Indian army forces killed eight militants early Thursday after they tried to cross into Indian-controlled territory from Pakistan and engaged in a firefight with the forces, killing an army captain, according to Jammu and Kashmir police chief A.K. Suri.

The infiltration attempt took place along the Line of Control in the Mendhar district.

Separatist militants have vowed to disrupt the state legislature elections, which they say are rigged to favor the governing, pro-Indian National Conference party.

In a separate incident, an overnight standoff and firefight between Indian police and militants in the village of Hiranagar in Kathua district killed one deputy superintendent of police, two militants and wounded two constables, police sources said.

The police and militants exchanged gunfire for 12 hours before the militants were killed. A police source said the bodies of the militants remain in a ditch as officials believe moving them may detonate grenades they were carrying.

The latest attack came two days after suspected guerrillas had targeted a bus in the town with automatic weapons and hand grenades and killed at least four people during voting for the third phase in state elections.

On Wednesday, 11 people were killed when suspected Islamic militants attacked paramilitary forces and activists of the pro-India governing party and a bomb exploded on a bus filled with Hindu pilgrims.

Low turnout

Around 50,000 Indian security personnel were deployed across the territory in an effort to head off election-related violence after militant groups threatened to kill anyone who took part in the polls, staggered over several weeks.

India has accused Pakistan of trying to disrupt the elections by allowing the militants to cross into the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir.

Police say a bomb was detonated by a timing device aboard a crowded bus
Police say a bomb was detonated by a timing device aboard a crowded bus

Islamabad has repeatedly denied the Indian charge, saying it only gives moral support to groups backing the right of the Kashmiri people for self-determination.

Earlier this year the row almost degenerated into all-out war between the two sides.

Kashmir has been a point of contention between India and Pakistan since 1947, leading to two wars between the now nuclear-armed neighbors.

Since the current elections in Indian-controlled Kashmir were called on August 2, more than 500 people have been killed -- among them more than 30 political activists and several political candidates.

That is believed to have been part of the reason for an extremely low turnout in voting areas Tuesday, during the third stage of elections.

Ruling party favorites

At one voting station in the town of Pahalgam where Islamic militants fighting to end India's control of the region are known to operate, just two people cast their ballots.

Indian police inspect a crater caused by an explosion when suspected Islamic militants blew up a vehicle carrying a legislative candidate
Indian police inspect a crater caused by an explosion when suspected Islamic militants blew up a vehicle carrying a legislative candidate

However, several Kashmiri groups said they were urging voters to boycott the polls demanding instead that a full United Nations-mandated referendum on Kashmir's future be held.

As a result most of the more moderate separatist parties have refused to contest the poll, leaving the ground to mainly by pro-Indian parties and a few independents.

Most analysts say they expect the state's ruling National Conference party to retain power.

In an effort to improve security, voting is being held in staggered phases, with different parts of Kashmir voting on different days.

Elections officials estimated a 50 percent turnout in the first round of elections, which began September 16, and a 40 percent turnout in the second round, which was held last week.

The last round of voting is next Tuesday. Final results were expected by October 12.

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